Monday, November 14, 2011

There Is No (Clear) Anti-Romney Vote


As regular readers might guess, I mostly liked Jay Newton-Small's argument for why Rick Perry isn't quite through yet. I continue to believe that if Mitt Romney doesn't win, Perry remains the most likely nominee. And Newton-Small makes a good case for why Perry should at any rate stay in the race for now.

But I'm going to call out one claim: that "The anti-Mitt Romney vote is still at 70%." There's just no reason to read the polls that way. Yes, I know, for those of us who have been following the GOP race since midnight or so on election night 2008, it seems that Romney has been running forever and that anyone who isn't with him now has probably made an actual decision to oppose him. But that's just not true. Voters (as Newton-Small notes elsewhere) just aren't paying attention yet. Really. They don't see Romney as a guy who has been running forever; they see the whole thing as just a bunch of shuffling around well before the real election happens next year. They are in many ways wrong about the contest in general -- but not, of course, about their own perception of it.

Let me put it this way...a whole lot of you are going to watch the Super Bowl, right? But a whole lot of you who will be watching in January and February have no real idea of who is doing well so far this season. I know I often run into casual baseball fans in late September who will watch some of the playoffs and World Series, and they ask me which teams are in it this year. They just don't focus that early. And yet by the end of the World Series, they'll not only be watching, but they'll wind up with strong opinions about various players and strategies and the rest.

What seems to be driving the various surges for fringe candidates, whether it's Trump, Bachmann, Cain, or Gingrich (and, to be sure, the same was true for Perry's brief stay on top of the polls) is more like approval of the name that's been dominating the news lately. In other words, I don't think voters who are asked their current vote intentions are carefully considering the various choices; they're hearing in the list of candidates the one who they've heard about a lot lately, and saying that they like that candidate. Now, granted, that's not all, because we can see some of the variation by party group that we would expect if these were real preferences. Essentially, I do think that a fair-sized chunk of the GOP electorate really has settled on Romney. But for the rest, they're just (probably) echoing back and approving of whoever is in the news. They won't have to choose between the candidates for a while now (if at all), and so mostly they aren't doing that.

The best hint you can get of Romney's ceiling isn't the horse race head-to-head numbers; it's his unfavorable numbers, which run right now at around 20% of all Republicans (24% of those who recognize his name). But even that has very limited utility; after all, we've just seen Newt Gingrich dramatically improve his favorable/unfavorable ratings, and surely Newt's unfavorables were a lot more deep-seated than Romney's. I do think it would be nice to see some one-on-one trial heats, by the way; I don't recall seeing any during this cycle, but those might give us some more useful hints.

It remains possible that there are groups of Republicans out there who absolutely oppose Romney, and that his support really is capped. It just isn't the case that we know that yet. So far, we can't say that there is an anti-Romney vote, and it's a mistake to interpret his stable-but-lowish polling numbers as if they imply a cap.


Via  Patrick Moynihan, it turns out that MSNBC did run a couple of head-to-heads in their current poll, way down at page 18. Turns out that Romney basically ties with Cain: Romney 49, Cain 48. And he crushes Perry, 62-33. That's not at all consistent with even a soft ceiling of 40%.

(Also a typo fixed)


  1. Absolute cap on his primary voter support? No. But what (if anything) does this say about enthusiasm of the GOP base for Romney? That he's gone the better part of six months without consolidating support - against THIS field??

    Will it possibly force him into making a tactical choice such as McCain felt necessary to rally the foot soldiers of his party?

  2. You've got a crucial typo up there that needs to be fixed. "IF Romney doesn't win," not "is" -- the way it reads now, you're saying that Perry is the most likely nominee, full stop. Which seems like a nonsensical and extremely bold opinion at this moment. What you mean (I think) is that Perry is the most likely nominee after Romney.

  3. Also, on the merits, you are probably taking your position to too far of an extreme. Yes, people aren't paying attention -- but. The difficulty Romney has had in securing vote share is a significant problem even in the absence of authentic resistance to Romney -- you seem to say it's no big deal. It is a big deal even if Romney ends up cruising to the nomination.

    Also, the phrase "approval of the name that's been dominating the news lately" is absurd and really not an accurate description of what's going on. Gingrich is the case that destroys that theory, IMO, because the main thing Gingrich has done to get into the news is ... be not Romney. Cain and Bachmann, similarly, got a lot of coverage primarily because, ah, they were polling well. Although I can see it a little more in their cases. But Gingrich? It's absurd to hold up Gingrich as someone who disproves the not-Romney concept because he's been so newsworthy and that's why he's doing well in polls. That just isn't what happened, with him. He's the most respectable non-Romney candidate, so he's doing well now.

  4. Martin,

    First, thanks for the typo, now fixed.

    Second...I guess what we really need is a proper study on this. Remember, "the news" here consists of FNC and the various conservative talk shows. I suspect that what you would find is that the effect runs from coverage to polling surges, not the other way around -- but, to be sure, that's my guess, not hard data.

    The one piece of hard data we do have (and I don't have the link with me now) is that Bachmann was disappeared from Fox News in August, after which her polling numbers collapsed.

  5. My recollection is that the current Gingrich boomlet started BEFORE any notable increase in coverage of Gingrich, not after. I think the same is true of Bachmann. Cain, Perry and Trump had coverage that preceded their rises.

    If I had the time, I'd like to get data to test some notions.....if I had the time.

  6. You watch enough FNC to notice?

    Actually, I suspect someone will do this analysis (the GOP race this year just begs for it, no?), so we'll know more.

  7. Oh, voters are paying attention alright, and Romney has the greatest recognition of any other candidate. They know who and what Romney is, and thus any lack of firm support indicates lack of support, not lack of recognition.

    And saying that no anti-Romney vote exists is stunningly blinkered. Again, it's just proof again that lefties really can't coherently comment on anything but lefty politics.

  8. He makes a good point about Mitt's so called ceiling. National polls are meaningless at this point. Better to concentrate on the early primary states, predict wise does a good job. You can follow it here although it is very fluid the numbers change all the time but it does give you some clues.

  9. I think support for Romney really doesn't matter - i think he wins the nomination because no one else is remotely worth. He will do well in Iowa, easily win new Hampshire and move on with some real momentum. And once he has the nomination, Republicans will unite behind him not because of him, but because of wanting to beat Obama (the same way Democrats united behind Kerry in '04, not because of Kerry, but because of wanting to beat President Bush). Also, the Fox News factor will play a major role in his support - it is not a coincidence that all these "fringe" candidates you mentioned received bumps in the polls to correspond to being pushed at various times on Fox. Romney may not get a lot of love from Fox now, but it will be there once he gets the nomination. Again, it may not be all pro-Romney, but more anti-Obama, but either way, it will get people on the right to want to vote for Romney. This is why, barring a real change in the economy, I think Ronmney has a big advantage come next Nov - again comparing it to '04: then, Dems wanted to beat President Bush probably the same as Republicans want to now beat President Obama; but President Bush at that point had almost complete support from his base, enough to overcome a very large turnout for Kerry. Obama, however, has lost support from his base, and right now, it is at least questionable whether he can regain that and regain the excitement from his base that is needed to spur large turnout.

  10. Just dawned on me what the problem with Romney is: moreso than any other modern candidate, Romney's candidacy is first, last and only about a Romney Presidency. Its likely that every Presidential candidate is only in it to be President, but all the others at least weave a plausible narrative beyond themselves (Obama: hopeychangey/youth/progress, McCain: anti-establishment/old school, Gore: technocratic competence, Bush2000: keep the 90s party going, Bush2004: protect USA from, among others, profligacy of those who kept the 90s party going, etc).

    Romney has no such narrative, not remotely, the only thing he can muster is a weak tea defense that he must have a narrative because he's not as liberal as you think. This was most extraordinarily indicated in 2008 when, in response to a question why none of his five sons was in Iraq, Romney replied that they would help the country more by working on his campaign.

    Its one thing to flip-flop, its another not to even bother (cynically) adopting a narrative. No wonder the insiders don't trust him, he's the emptiest of political empty suits.

    "Vote Romney, so Romney can be President!"


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